Caixin
Jul 15, 2019 07:16 PM
SOCIETY & CULTURE

Missing 9-Year-Old Found Dead After Search That Captivated Nation

Zhang Zixin's father and others search for the missing girl along the coast of Ningbo, East China's Zhejiang province, on July 11. Her body was found in the area two days later. Photo: IC Photo
Zhang Zixin's father and others search for the missing girl along the coast of Ningbo, East China's Zhejiang province, on July 11. Her body was found in the area two days later. Photo: IC Photo

A 9-year-old girl reported missing from East China’s Zhejiang province has been found dead, police have confirmed, ending a massive weeklong search that drew national attention.

Zhang Zixin was taken away from her grandparents’ home on the outskirts of Hangzhou on July 4 by two tenants living at the family’s property, according to a statement by local authorities (link in Chinese) Sunday. The tenants, a man surnamed Liang and a woman surnamed Xie, had claimed they wanted to take the girl to a wedding in Shanghai.

But, investigators found, Liang and Xie took Zhang to several southern Chinese cities before returning to Ningbo in Zhejiang, where security video footage showed that Liang and Xie killed themselves on July 8 by jumping into a lake. On the same day, Zhang’s grandmother reported the disappearance of her granddaughter. Zhang’s body was eventually found in the sea off the coast of Ningbo on Saturday.

Over 500 law enforcement officers across seven Chinese cities joined the search for Zhang, police said. The case received extensive coverage in Chinese media, with Zhang’s father giving multiple interviews.

Liang and Xie were suspected of killing Zhang, who appeared to have drowned, police said in an interview with official public security newspaper Peace Times.

It’s unclear what Liang and Xie’s motives were, although the two suspects, who were in a relationship, had on multiple occasions asked if they could adopt Zhang as a goddaughter. According to police, Liang had previously married and had two children, who lived in a different part of the country.

Over the past two years, Liang and Xie depended on lying to friends and relatives to obtain money to travel, the police said, though by the time they died the two had only a combined 31.7 yuan ($4.60) in cash and their bank accounts. The pair had traveled to at least 48 cities across China since the end of 2018.

Zhang’s parents were separated and lived in other cities, placing her in the care of her elderly grandparents. Zhang’s father told the Beijing News (link in Chinese) that Liang and Xie had deceived the child’s grandparents and convinced them to agree to let Zhang accompany them on their trip, despite the grandparents’ initial reluctance.

In China, the Beijing Suicide Research and Prevention Center can be reached for free at 800-810-1117 or 010-82951332. In the United States, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached for free at 1-800-273-8255. A fuller list of prevention services by country can be found here.

Contact reporter Teng Jing Xuan (jingxuanteng@caixin.com)

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